A good example of this would be the Elk River Railroad in Gassaway, West Virginia which was originally created in 1989 to haul coal from a new mine that had recently opened but after it closed ten years later in 1999, the railroad has sat basically dormant since that time and today occasionally handles car-repair work and car storage (other railroads looking for new customers also eek out a meager existence in this manner). Of course, on the other end of the spectrum are large shortlines that operate several hundred miles of track and are nearly Class IIs. These include names like RJ Corman, Iowa Northern Railway, Livonia, Avon & Lakeville, and others. For historical sake there also those companies which have been in operation for more than 100 years such as the Indiana Harbor Belt, St. Marys Railroad, Ann Arbor, and others. The bottom line is that you can find Class IIIs of all shapes and sizes around the country.
This grittiness in the face of adversity is another reason these railroads have a uniqueness that is all their own and sometimes their very being keeps a rail line from abandonment, not to mention the help they provide their local economy (far too often rail lines are abandoned and left for dead when they could still be serving a purpose and helping the economy in which they are located). Even today, new Class III railroads continue to spring up like the once-dormant, historic Grafton & Upton Railroad in Massachusetts which has sprung to life and the new owner has a vast array of new plans for the company. Of course, not all are privately owned as you may think. Just like the classic, fallen flag lines many are being gobbled up by large conglomerates such as Anacostia & Pacific, Genesee & Wyoming, Gulf & Ohio Railways, Iowa Pacific, OmniTRAX, Patriot Rail, Pinsly, Pioneer RailCorp, Rio Grande Pacific, RJ Corman, and Watco.
While these lines continue to keep their names, liveries and management is replaced by the new owners. Also, while the short line phenomenon is a relatively new trend only 30 years old or so, at least in the sense that it has become quite popular with the large Class Is selling off hundreds of miles of secondary lines there are historic companies that no longer operate. These include names like the Maryland & Pennsylvania ("Ma & Pa"), Virginia & Truckee, and others. According to the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) October, 2014 report entitled, "Summary Of Class II and Class III Railroad Capital Needs And Funding Sources" there are currently 546 short lines in service across the country operating 32,858 miles of trackage with a workforce of 12,293. As of 2013 their annual revenue as a group was $2.6 billion. Lastly, for more information on a number of the Class IIIs which operate throughout the country please click on their appropriate link listed above.
So, if you get the chance and know of a local system in your area be sure and see it in action if the opportunity presents itself (many only operate on certain days of the week). While watching a Class I container train moving at 60+ mph across the Heartland is always thrilling, nothing can likewise beat observing a local line switching its customer(s) and moving those cars between there, the interchange point (where smaller roads swap loaded and empty cars with the big Class Is), and back again. If you want to see the human side of railroading, no one does it better than these small lines. To learn more about them please click here to visit the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association's (ASLRRA) website. This member organization is similar in nature to the Association of American Railroads but geared towards smaller, non-Class I carriers.
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